Thursday, October 15, 2009

Anti-Rush Bias Pathetic for NFL

First things first, I am going to do two things today which I have never done in my illustrious seven-month blogging career:

  1. Post an entry pertaining solely to NFL football
  2. Address a political issue
So, before launching into today's entry, and in the interest of full-disclosure, I must state that I am a conservative and a registered Republican. Although I have listened to Rush Limbaugh's program in the past, I do not count myself as a regular listener, or even a semi-regular listener, at that.

However, millions of Americans do listen to Limbaugh regularly. His audience is likely not accurately measured, but this piece from the Washington Post in March of this year suggests the figure is somewhere between 14.2-25M listeners (I wish I could be accurate with a range of 10.8M). He is undoubtedly the most influential conservative radio talk show host. Limbaugh is also handsomely-paid. His current contract with his syndicator is for $400M over 8 years.

Rush Limbaugh is also controversial, which comes with the territory in his line of work. Of course, to a Wisconsin football fan, I am probably controversial as well. But, when one watches the news, the words "conservative" and "controversial" will almost always appear in the piece. Given his medium, he is paid to opine upon and examine the important political issues of the day. He is also in the entertainment business, and having "controversial" positions on issues is good entertainment. If Rush simply parroted the facts of each issue as read from AP wires, his audience would be a tiny fraction of what it is. Simply put, although he may actually believe in the conservative values he espouses, he is paid to have controversial opinions because his audience finds it entertaining.

Limbaugh is also a passionate sports fan. He worked in public relations for the Kansas City Royals in the 1970s and worked as an NFL commentator on ESPN during the early part of this decade. It is from his ESPN stint that all the recent hubbub emanates.

You see, Limbaugh was reportedly part of a group planning on offering a bid for the St. Louis Rams in an effort to keep it in St. Louis. The Rams are currently controlled by the two children of the late owner Georgia Frontiere, who passed away in 2008. The children, Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez, own 60% of the team, and Stan Kroenke (who also owns the Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets) owns the remaining 40%. The Frontiere children hired an investment bank to analyze the assets of Frontiere's estate, and it not certain whether or not the Rams are even for sale.

The group, headed by St. Louis Blues majority owner Dave Checketts, included Limbaugh and many other investors. Limbaugh would not have been the majority investor, nor would he likely have had a day-to-day role in the operation of the team. Yet, the Checketts/Limbaugh bid was deemed "DOA" by several sources, even before it has been formalized.

NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith issued a statement over the weekend opposing the bid, saying:

"I've spoken to the Commissioner [Roger Goddell] and I understand that this ownership consideration is in the early stages. But sport in American is at its best when it unifies, gives all of us a reason to cheer, and when it transcends. Our sport does exactly that when it overcomes division and rejects discrimination and hatred."

"Discrimination and hatred" is awful strong verbiage. The source of the angst is an opinion given by Limbaugh on "NFL Sunday Countdown" in 2003, speaking of Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb:

"I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well."

The quote caused a firestorm and forced Limbaugh to resign from ESPN.

Now, over six years later, the quote still resonates as evidence of racial bias unwelcome in the NFL. Whteher or not you agree with his opinion, it is not racist. Mainstream news outlets like CNN and MSNBC have piled on, focusing on the McNabb opinion as well as another quote in which Limbaugh supposedly equated slavery with safer streets in the South. This quote has been steadfastly denied by Limbaugh, saying that a single blogger perpetrated the misquote and that it ended up on his Wikipedia page. Still, that Limbaugh denied uttering the quote is not good enough for the media outlets who are, shall we say, hostile to Rush's political views. Quotes supposedly attributed to Limbaugh, including one in which he compares NFL teams to rival gangs, are now being re-examined repeatedly.

Also piling on, of course, are the usual suspects. The Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have come out against the bid. Commissioner Goodell backs Smith and the Players Association. Several current NFL players have gone on record saying they wouldn't play for St. Louis if Limbaugh is confirmed. Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said earlier this week he would vote against any bid including Limbaugh.

Now, I will give Smith a pass, since he is protecting his players, even though his comments are a bid hyperbolic. Goodell is taking a political stance. Sharpton and Jackson are notorious race-baiters and shakedown artists to whom no attention should be paid. However, Irsay's comments are rich.

"I, myself, couldn't even consider voting for him. When there are comments that have been made and are inappropriate, incendiary, and insensitive.....our words do damage, and it's something we do not need."

So, actions do not speak louder than words, huh, Jim? Words and opinions are more harmful than actions? Limbaugh was brought on board by ESPN to be controversial, period. Why else would he have been hired? He was acting so when he uttered his comments about McNabb. Agree with them or disagree (I happen to agree that McNabb is over-rated, but it has nothing to do with race). When Limbaugh makes his comments on his radio show, he is acting as a controversial entertainer.

Irsay's father was one of the biggest louts to ever grace the NFL. He moved his team out of Baltimore in the middle of the night after showing up at a press conference half in the bag and proclaiming, "This is my goddamn team!" His own mother once referred to him as "The Devil on Earth." The Washington Redskins were segregated by owner George Preston Marshall until 1962, and Marshall is in the Hall of Fame. Several current players have had second chances in the league after their actions landed them in prison (see, Michael Vick, Leonard Little). Still, we're getting overly hung up on words and opinions. Also, the NFL is a business which hates controversy among its ownership circle (see Davis, Al).

I do not know if liberal talk show host Ed Schultz is a Vikings' fan or if he even likes football, but I do know that he has roots in North Dakota. If he decided to make a bid for the Vikings, I would imagine that the league would come out against him because his opinions are divisive to the other 50% who are not liberals. Of course, football fans would probably see that having someone with the resources and desire to invest in a football team hoping to win a championship is a good thing, regardless of ideology.

The NFL clearly decided to blackball Rush Limbaugh from the league, which they are wont to do. However, the reasons are spotty, at best, especially considering the guy wasn't even going to be a major investor.

It now looks like Dave Checketts has bowed to public pressure and will dump Limbaugh. Once again, actions are secondary to thoughts and deeds. Score another shakedown for team Jackson/Sharpton. Said Sharpton Wednesday night:

"It is a moral victory for all Americans -- especially the players that have been unfairly castigated by Rush Limbaugh...This decision will also uphold the unifying standards of other sports."

Thanks, Al, for being an authority on unification.

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